To Love and Honor God is to Love and Honor Each Other

I have long benefitted from the writings of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.  I just read an essay of his from this past week titled The Prophetic View of Sacrifice.  Sacrifice was “central to the religious life of biblical Israel,” yet one can find frequent critique of sacrifices in the Hebrew Scriptures (and he quotes a number of those in his essay).

Rabbi Sacks points out that the real critique was not aimed at the institution of sacrifices, but of something “as real now as it was in their times.”  He writes

What distressed them to the core of their being was the idea that you could serve God and at the same time act disdainfully, cruelly, unjustly, insensitively or callously toward other people. “So long as I am in God’s good graces, that is all that matters.” That is the thought that made the Prophets incandescent with indignation. If you think that, they seem to say, then you haven’t understood either God or Torah.

The first thing the Torah tells us about humanity is that we are each in the image and likeness of God Himself. Therefore if you wrong a human being, you are abusing the only creation in the universe on which God has set His image. A sin against any person is a sin against God.

Now, as then, the idea that one can wrong another – or, indeed to fail to love another – and think one can appease God by prayer or sacrifice or otherwise, fails to appreciate that “[t]o serve God is to serve humanity.”

There is nothing wrong in true sacrifice.  The problem, Rabbi Sacks suggests, with a system of sacrifice

is that it can lead people to think that there are two domains, the Temple and the world, serving God and caring for one’s fellow humans, and they are disconnected. Judaism rejects the concept of two disconnected domains. Halachically they are distinct, but psychologically, ethically and spiritually they are part of a single indivisible system.

I believe that to love God is to love our fellow humans. To honour God is to honour our fellow humans. We may not ask God to listen to us if we are unwilling to listen to others. We may not ask God to forgive us if we are unwilling to forgive others. To know God is to seek to imitate Him, which means, said Jeremiah and Maimonides, to exercise kindness, justice and righteousness on earth.

These words are true always, but they are an especially good reminder in the time in which we are currently living.  We surely need prayer to sustain us in these times.  But it does not honor God

…for large numbers of people to gather in churches, risking infecting each other

…to suggest that certain groups, such as Asian, are responsible for the Covid-19, thus putting them in physical and emotional jeopardy from others

to fail to help those who are struggling more than we are from the effects of the virus.




Be Consoled

This morning I “attended” Mass at St. Ignatius of Loyola Church in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, presided over by my friend Joe Costantino.  Like many of you, I attended Mass from my home via internet.  It is not the same as being there, but it felt good to be at Mass together.

I thought today’s readings were particularly apt for the time we are living in.  But even more comforting was the song sung at communion, Joe Wise’s Be Consoled.  You can listen to a version of the song here.  Here are the lyrics; as you read or listen, hear God’s promise.

Be consoled, my people, Be consoled and hear:
I will not leave you homeless To live alone with your tears.
Hold your head up with hope now, Don’t surrender your years.
Dawn will break on your nighttime, All the darkness will clear.
Be consoled, my people, Soon the sun will appear.
Be consoled, my people, Be consoled, I am near.

Can a woman forget her child, Life she knew in her womb?
Turn away from the one she nursed, Would she not find the room?
Yet even if she should forget, I will never let go.
Be consoled, my people, Be consoled, my people,
Be consoled, my people, Be consoled, I am near.

Be consoled, my people, Be consoled and hear:
I will not leave you homeless, To live alone with your tears.
Death is not what I saw for you, Chains are not my design.
Love alone is your birthright, not the fears that confine.
Be consoled, my people, Soon the sun will appear.
Be consoled, my people, Be consoled, I am near.

Yet even if you should forget, I will never let go.
Be consoled, my people, Be consoled, my people,
Be consoled, my people, Be consoled, I am near.
Be consoled, my people, You were mine from the start.
Be consoled, my people, You’re too close to my heart.
Be consoled, my people, You’re too close to my heart.

What Does My Yes Look Like?

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Annunciation, and today’s Gospel reading is the familiar account from the Gospel of Luke of the encounter between the angel Gabriel and Mary. It is a scene many of us have prayed with often, and one I have spoken or written about on any number of occasions.

The two things that came up in my prayer this morning on this reading were these.

First,  God consistently asks for human participation in his plan of salvation.  God has done so from the beginning of time.  God doesn’t need our help, but could do everything without us.  And God could have created us with no will to do anything other than that which he demanded.  But God didn’t.  Instead, God created human beings capable of consenting to or deviating from God’s plan for salvation.  And while God desires our consent and cooperation, he will not force it.

Second, Mary’s yes to what must have seemed like an outlandish request, invites us to ask where am I being invited to say yes today?

In the midst of this crazy time in which we are living, what is the invitation?  Perhaps it is to find ways to reach out to support family, friends or strangers.  Perhaps it is to grow in patience in dealing with the difficulties of work and schooling from home.

And so the questions I ask, and we all can ask, are

What am I being invited to say yes to today – in the concrete situation in which we find ourselves?

And what is my response?


St. Joseph, Pray for Us

St. Joseph, the human father of Jesus and husband of Mary, is honored on two days by the Catholic Church.  Today is one of those days – The Solemnity of St. Joseph.  (The other is May 1, the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker, a memorial instituted by Pope Pius XII and dedicated to the dignity of labor and to honoring workers.)

Although I had no particular devotion to St. Joseph growing up, or even in the early years after my return to Catholicism in my early 40s, today he is one of those who figure prominently when I visualize the communion of saints.

St. Joseph is an inspiration in so many ways.  First, he reminds us to give people the benefit of the doubt even when their stories seem strange (read: completely unbelievable).  Her never had any proof Mary was not unfaithful to him, yet he listened to the dream/vision that told him to take her into his home.

Second, he helps us remember that we can trust God, even when the world seems upside down.  Surely that is a reminder we can all use right now, as we face this pandemic.

Third, and by no means last, like John the Baptist, Joseph reminds us that one doesn’t have to have the starting role to play an important part.  We get very little mention of him in the Gospels, yet we know this human father of Jesus was my Mary’s side helping raise Jesus.  A quiet presence that protected them and formed a family with them.  He wasn’t flashy, he didn’t get a lot of accolades, but he was there, and he played his role.  He reminds us that all that matters is that we take our part in God’s plan, not worrying if someone else’s role is bigger.

St. Joseph, pray for us!

I Arise Today

Many of the day’s parades have been cancellecd, but today is still St. Patrick’s Day.

St. Patrick has never been a saint that has occupied a great space in my heart.   But I have always loved the prayer of St. Patrick that sometimes referred to as St. Patrick’s “Breastplate Prayer.”  It seems a particularly apt prayer during this time of pandemic in which we are living.

I have seen several versions of the Breastplate Prayer.  This is the one that speaks to me and I invite you to pray it today:

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.

Christ shield me today
Against wounding
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.

Our Lives During Covid-19

We are living in a scary time.  We don’t know how many people are affected by Covid-19.  In Minnesota, the state in which I live, the numbers show 14 people infected, but I’m guessing the actual number is much more than that.  New York, where most of my family lives, now had the dubious honor of having the most people sick with the virus.

In his First Principle and Foundation, my friend St. Ignatius invites us to develop an active indifference, that does not fix our desire on health over sickness, a long life or short life, and so forth, recognizing that everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.  That mindset should help us maintain a sense of – if not calm, at least a lack of panic over the current situation.

We all need to take responsibility, not only for our own well-being but that of others.   And while that means self-isolating to the extent possible, it also means checking in with others – especially those who may not because of age or a compromised immune system be able to get out for things they might need.  And it also means buying what you need, but not hoarding items, depriving others of them.

Don’t let the self-isolation become a source of stress.  I’m guessing I’m not the only one with a pile of books that there is never enough time to read.  I also plan to take advantage of the Metropolitan Opera’s decision to offer free nightly streaming of some of its past MetLive performances. (See here.)  Or you might take a virtual museum tour.  (See here.)

And for those who say there is never enough time in their day for regular daily prayer – well, now there is.  Including pray for those who are ill and those most susceptible to serious consequences.

God is with us!




The Joy of Purim

Beginning at sundown this evening, our Jewish brothers and sisters will celebrate the Purim, a festival that commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire from Haman’s plot to  annihilate all the Jews.

Purim is a feast of joy, but not just joy that the Jewish people survived the plot of Haman.  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains that something deeper is at work, suggesting that

when we rejoice on Purim, on this festival which is actually the festival about antisemitism, we are saying something very important. “We will not be intimidated. We will not be traumatised. We will not be defined by our enemies. We will live with the threats and even laugh at them because what we can laugh at, we cannot be held captive by.” And that therefore is really what the joy of Purim is about. It’s about surviving, and beyond that, thriving, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It’s a way of saying, “I will eat and I will drink and I will celebrate and I will not let dark clouds enter my mind or my heart.”

Sacks goes on to say that “the people that can know the full darkness of history and yet rejoice, is a people whose spirit no power on earth can ever break.”

Reading Rabbi Sacks remarks resonated deeply, because it strikes me that the message conveyed is not very dissimilar to the message conveyed to Christians by the Resurrection of Christ.

In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Week 4 is all about Resurrection, and the grace of Week 4 is to “feel glad and rejoice intensely because Jesus rises in exultation and in great power and glory.”  The joy we are talking about here is not a bells and whistles joy.  If I have been with Jesus at Calvary, I can never again leave the cross and tomb behind.  I carry the cross with me (as the risen Jesus carries his physical wombs on his body).  Resurrection is happiness in the midst of the empty tomb, grief, loneliness, and the sense that things are not the way things are suppose to be.

Although Christians express the basis of our convictions differently than our Jewish brothers and sisters, with them we are “a people whose spirit no power on earth can ever break.”